After a four-year process guided by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office User Advisory Board, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Communications Division moved on an encrypted radio system on Oct. 16. The advisory board advises the sheriff’s office on matters related to county-wide communications procedures and performance,

The chiefs of the dependent agencies were consulted and remain extremely supportive, according to a county statement. While each city in the dispatch system brought requests to update their equipment to their respective city councils during the past four years, the county recognizes that it did not clearly communicate this change to the public before the new system went live.

This change was made for the protection of personal information, protecting police operations and officer safety. In recent years, technology advances have increased the ability of all residents to monitor police calls via readily available mobile apps. This has exposed sensitive data of residents to potential harm on a daily basis. The county said Hennepin County residents have a right to privacy and an expectation that the information they give to 911 is private. When people call 911 to report domestic abuse, a suicide attempt, or other sensitive matter, they likely do not want others hearing their personal information.

Likewise, when a 911 caller shares their address along with the location of a hidden house key or the code to a keypad entry system, they do not want that information broadcast to the public. However, this information needs to be broadcast to responding officers, and technology is allowing others to listen to that information. The sheriff’s office mission is to protect the public. This includes protecting their data from those who might abuse it.

Similarly, mobile scanner apps have helped criminals around the country elude capture and put officers in danger by letting them monitor police response activity in real-time. Scanner apps let listeners know where police are headed, giving criminals a chance to flee a crime scene or an opportunity to arm themselves before police arrive.

The county sheriff’s office recognizes that scanner apps are popular and that most users have no malicious intentions for the information broadcast over them. However, there is no federal law that requires public access to police radio, and live broadcast offers law enforcement agencies no ability to redact sensitive information. The public will still be able to request recordings of 911 calls with sensitive data redacted via data practice requests.

The sheriff’s office said it recognizes the interest of media in having access to police communications to ensure police transparency and accountability and is working on a solution to provide needed access to police communications.

The county sheriff’s office welcomes the public’s comment on this issue.

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– Contributed by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office

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